Episode 132 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Pierluigi Dalla Rosa. Pier is an interaction designer at Humane, the makers of the AI Pin. But our conversation didn’t focus on that product. Instead, we discussed novel computer interfaces in general and interactive environments in particular.

Pier started by introducing himself as a working at the convergence of three identities: homo digitalis, homo ludens, and homo faber. I.e., a playful maker of digital things. In particular, he’s interested in how interactive environments can enable new types of collaborative experiences.

With that goal in mind, Pier and his collaborator Enrico Gueli developed Tramontana, an open source platform for prototyping collaborative digital environments. Tramontana allows designers to use commodity hardward to augment physical spaces with digital interactions and information.

More recently, Pier has worked with a research collective to prototype principles and practices for designing such experiences. The starting point for our conversation was their recent post documenting their work, An exploration in collective interfaces.

We discussed several precedents to this type of work, especially Dynamicland , which is a place-based collaborative computer. Pier contrasted Dynamicland’s open-ended approach to more prescriptive experiences, such as video games and VR systems.

When I mentioned my experience at The Void, a place-based VR experience that enables multi-user interactions, Pier offered an insightful distinction:

I think that’s definitely one instance of how we can build shared environments. I found this to be a screaming use of technology. I think there is a place in which we can have communal experiences that are calm, that are about discourse, that are about creation together. I think they have a need for a different form that is not this kind of immersive virtual reality experience in which we are having these kind of action moments together.

I love this idea of enabling “calm” collaborative place-based experiences. Pier and the collective have identified three principles for designing them:

  • No hierarchy, i.e., making the experience egalitarian
  • Tasklessness, i.e., not prescribing user behavior (as in a happy path)
  • Whole-body interaction, i.e., in contrast to typical computing experiences that are constrained to very narrow sensory and motor channels

There’s no need for digital experiences to be constrained to small glass rectangles. Pier and his colleagues are exploring fascinating possible futures for computing experiences. I’m grateful that they’re sharing what they learn, both by writing about it and by discussing it with us on the show.

The Informed Life episode 132: Pierluigi Dalla Rosa on Interactive Environments